Merry Christmas

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My photo was taken in the countryside around Siem Reap, Cambodia; where clean water is scarce and children have peace on their minds. 2015

This is a call to the living,
to those who refuse to make peace with evil
with the suffering and waste of the world.
This is a call to the human, not the perfect,
to those who know their own prejudices,
but who have no intention of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.
This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,
who know what it means to share food and shelter,
who care for children and those who are troubled,
to reach beyond barriers of the past
bringing people to communion.
This is a call to the never ending spirit
of the common man, his essential decency and integrity,
his unending capacity to suffer and endure,
to face death and destruction and to rise again
and build from the ruins of life.
This is the greatest call of all
the call to a faith in people.
Algernon D. Black, former senior leader, The New York Society for Ethical Culture

 

 

The Wonders of the World

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Photos taken are from the Denver area and Conifer, Colorado

Here we are in late December about to celebrate Christmas and fortunate to be living in the United States of America at a particularly daunting time in history. The world around us churns with random chaos and mayhem, and yet, for the most part, we are able to enjoy our holidays in comfort and joy. This year, as always, my family is all over the world map visiting exotic places where both work and play summon them. Their passports are getting full; one had to be replaced with a new one this year. We are a close family that keeps in almost daily touch with each other, but we are seldom together as a group during the holidays. Christmas is a difficult occasion for me, the older I get, but I am so very thankful that we all live lives rich in unique experiences that includes acquaintances and friends from all over the globe.

Many of our favorite blogs involve travel, and travel in these precarious times is both a luxury and a risk, whether or not you are going out of the country. My family and I  have learned volumes from our travels. My two grown children in particular have been shining examples – respectful and constantly fascinated travelers/ambassadors for the United States of America wherever they go, and they go to some especially unusual places – Yemen, Madagascar, the Arctic Circle, Myanmar and Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Gabon, Irag, Kurdistan, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Viet nam and the list goes on. You would have to know them and hear their stories to realize that they make friends of every person they encounter, and my family does indeed know that for sure, having heard their tales ranging from the hair-raising to the miraculous for many years now. They have gone to places where Americans might not be welcomed, maintaining their dignity and  compassion, knowing that government does not always represent people. They have made lasting friends in all walks of life and with people quite eager to meet Americans and ask questions of them despite the official tone of the location.

My son happened to be in Poland on business when 9/11 occurred, and received the warmest comfort and the most profound sympathy and understanding during his stay there, as his home country was brought to its knees. People are people everywhere.

Christmas always leaves me sentimental and missing my nearest and dearest, but what our family has gained by being away far outweighs my temporary sadness. I am partly responsible for all this distance, instilling in my children a sense of adventure and discovery from the time they could walk. The wonders of their traveling lives are instantly revealed to me via Instagram and text messages until I can see them again, and I find myself wondering how people ever endured such distance without the constant  ability to be in touch. We are so fortunate.

I wish all of you around the world a loving and meaningful holiday season in a safe place with the ones you love the most!

The Creative Epiphany – Creativity is Kept Alive With a Youthful Heart

 Photo courtesy of funstuffblogandreviews.wordpress.com

This time of year is especially appropriate for allowing your inner child to surface – all you have to do is to dig deep and remember the wonder of Christmas Eve. The excitement, the anticipation, the joy of that time in your childhood comes rushing back as if it were yesterday, and if you have children or grandchildren or even little friends who are going to experience that precious time then you are fortunate indeed to see it again through those innocent eyes. Seek that out, cherish it and use it to fuel your creativity.

What separates the older “grumps” from the older but still “young-at-hearts” among us lies in our ability to recollect, imagine and live again as if “for the first time”  the meaningful and memorable windows in time when we were the most engaged, inspired and  impressed. Lucky be you if you have some of those special moments in time to recall; I know there are those out there who do not. And If you do not, your job is to find special moments now…that is your mission…make up for lost time…live milestone moments again the way you want them to be. Get it right and hang on to it while you can. Be young at heart.

I have always believed that as creative people our BFF – best friend forever – is imagination. I have written about imagination before in these blog posts, clarifying her relationship with creativity. Those two beautiful qualities do go hand in hand. And so if your imagination is running on empty, if you have gotten a little rusty in the day-dreaming department, or if you have allowed the stark reality of things to get its icy grip on you, you are probably missing the creativity also. Pessimism is your worst enemy when your creativity is taking a leave of absence. Creativity will not feel welcome when you are bleak with pessimism. Kids are seldom pessimistic. The hopes, the dreams, the fascination with the smallest details, the amazement at each unfolding day is what children manifest for us. How long has it been since you talked to a 5 year old? Spend 10 minutes at that and you are made of stone if you are not smiling and engaged and wanting more of that magical stuff.

When I paint with my adorable, 5 year old, curly-haired niece, we mix colors – red and blue make purple, her favorite, and her eyes widen in surprise. Yellow and blue make green – astonishing! MAGIC! Several weeks later she asks me, “How can we make white? I am all out of white.”

She asks us all, gathered around the table for Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims are going to join us for the feast. Good question. I wonder where they are. They are late. Wonder if they’ll be here in time for the pumpkin pie.

Without this in my life I would shrivel and die a little,  bit by bit. It is one of the reasons I moved back to Denver – I missed the  children in my family, having lived in a 55 and older community for about 3 years. No Halloween. No Easter egg hunts and no Christmas Eve spent tracking Santa and putting the cookies and milk out on the hearth. Some of this needs to rub off on us if we are to remain truly alive and engaged in all the stages of life. For every thing there is a season and a reason.

This quote was recently brought to my attention by a dear friend and fellow artist:
Science fiction author Ursula Le Guin wrote, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Wise artists practice daily with their inner youngster, and the task doesn’t lighten with success. Your child may slip into the shadows when more pressing professional concerns take hold.  Excerpted from the online newsletter of Canadian Artist Robert Genn.  Visit his website at http://www.robertgenn.com

Pablo Picasso had something to say on the subject as well: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”Pablo Picasso (Spanish cubist painter, 1881-1973)

I encourage you to live in the NOW of this joyful season. Don’t be the rain on anyone’s parade! Whether or not the Christmas season coincides with your personal beliefs, choose the “good tidings of great joy” section of the celebrations and ride along on that. Find your innocent and wondrous inner child and use it for the greater good, because you can’t go wrong with that, and your creativity will thank you for it….BELIEVE.

The Creative Epiphany – Santa, Am I Being Punished?

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This is a very stressful and patience-testing time of year. So much to remember to do, so little time and money and endurance with which to do it. Everybody has their way of coping, and those who do not find one single coping mechanism that works are going to be nuts by January 1st. I am on my way to the loony bin.

The season started off with bitter freezing weather here in Colorado and I got a split in the skin on the tip of my thumb that looks like a bloody crevasse. How can something that small hurt so much? I would rather have childbirth with no painkiller than this thumb wound. I have used Vaseline, Neosporin, Chap Stick and Aveeno dry skin ream – tried each one of those remedies overnight with a Band-Aid over it and woke up all mended, but by the middle of the next afternoon it has split open again. It is now December 16th and it is still re-opening nearly every afternoon about 3 pm no matter what I am doing. I could even be motionless and it will flop open… Super Glue? This aggravation does cause crankiness – by the third week of it I was snarling and wishing bad things upon other people – hoping Miley Cyprus would not be able to think of another single attention getting stunt ever again because her creativity would dry up like a crack in the desert soil, and like my thumb. I was also wishing hard that Justin Bieber would lose his driver’s license –  really, is that a mean thought? It might potentially save dozens of lives. He is so young – he’d get over it with no harm done. He needs to have a toy other than a speeding careening car. This is now almost the 4th week of the split thumb and I want to punch something.

I bought a huge sack of white styrofoam peanuts ( we used to call it ghost poop when the kids were growing up) because I had to pack a big fragile thing for shipping. Temporarily I sat it up on the shelf in the walk-in closet, only to find the next morning that it had somehow popped open and had vomited those cheeto-like things all over the place –  even behind stuff that I never even move. It practically filled up the entire closet. How could it do that? The bag that I had safely brought home from the shipping store had emptied itself out! I live by myself! Is it really ghost poop, I had to wonder? Do I have a ghost?

Putting away a large spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner with vinegar, on the high shelf above the washer & dryer, I missed my mark and dropped it, and heard it fall down behind the washer – which might as well be all the way to China, because I can’t move the washer and my arm is not long enough to get down behind it. I decide to wait until my son comes home for Christmas to retrieve it for me. In the meantime, the next morning, I do a load of laundry wondering vaguely, in the recesses of my cob-webby busy mind, why the laundry detergent smells different. After the load is done I pull clothes out of the washer, including a badly mangled spray bottle, in amazement that it landed THERE inside the washer rather than behind the washer, and find that the entire bottle of cleaning solution with vinegar has lost its contents on a load full of blacks. I could have sworn it went down behind, not inside. I am beginning to think I am crazy. The clothes smelled horrible and I had to wash them 3 more times.

I worked myself into a slow simmer when I heard on TV that a young punk kid, barely old enough to drive, who killed 4 people when he was driving a car at 3 times the acceptable limit for alcohol was given probation by a judge who said he was a victim of AFFLUENZA – and therefor not responsible for his actions – because he is from an affluent wealthy wealthy wealthy family who never taught him right from wrong and had him living in a mansion all by himself with no supervision whatsoever. So he was let off the hook. For 4 lives. Have we all gone insane? Where are the parents? Why are they not interviewing those people? Why can’t they be tried if the kid gets off?

I am out doing errands in the car, starting with the gas station. The guy in front of me is having a hard time with his credit card or something and so I decide to change lanes and  back up to go to another pump. I look over my shoulder before I put it in reverse, I check the other side – all clear – I go backwards and instantly feel and hear a crunch as I hit the fender of a car. WHAT? HUH??? I jump out and run over to her and I say, “I am soooo sorry! I looked behind me but I didn’t see any car!!” She answers, very calmly, “Well I was just pulling in – I saw you moving toward me but I pulled in anyway!” HUH??? Who does that? Can you not wait for 3 more seconds when a car is moving toward you to avoid a collision? You can’t? What is the matter with you?

Home from my errands, I file an accidental fender bender report on the computer…instead of waiting to make myself a healthy dinner after I’m done with that, I grab a handful of “you can’t take just one” carmel and nut popcorn. I get a piece caught in my last molar on the left side, I reach in to loosen it with my finger, and a hunk of my tooth comes out with it. When I touch it with my tongue it feels like the Grand Canyon, and I see $$$ signs. Exactly the same amount of $$$ signs that my son’s Christmas gift will cost…am I being tested? Of course he will get his new ski helmet no matter what, I growl to no one in particular.

Have I uttered an expletive throughout all of these mishaps? NO. I have not, Santa.

It was not until the next afternoon when I went to a movie to see the film “12 Years A Slave”, thinking I could chill out a little bit and give myself a treat – but noooooo –  I truly hit the tipping point and lost it. As I got up to the window to buy my ticket they informed me that they were having problems with correct movie listings on FANDANGO, which I had checked for times on my Iphone, and they were no longer offering “12 Years A Slave”. Dozens of people were waiting to see that film. The theater had posted no sign. no apology, no explanation – but instead just decided to inform dozens of waiting people, one by one as they got up to the window, that the film would not show at all anymore. Why don’t people think?

I backed slowly away from the counter, smiling that insane kind of smile that people are afraid to see on a person in a public place. The others cleared a path for me, gave me a wide berth, looked at me with caution and I walked quickly to my car, stepped inside, shut the door and screamed F**K at the top of my lungs about 15 times. It was not just the film – it was an accumulation of rotten stuff.

Am I being punished? Tested? Messed with? All of the above I am sure.

But I can endure – and so can you. Just figure out a way to register your anger with the universe and let it fly in a non-violent expression of some kind. Then get over it and start fresh in time for the 25th. You can do it – I know you can.

The Creative Epiphany – Coping With Absence During the Holidays

20-Time-Generations  Mixed Media Collage by Jo Ann Brown-Scott titled TIMES

Everybody talks about friends and family gatherings during the holiday season, the fun, the food, the reunions, the surprises, and yet you hear very little about the hollow feeling that settles in when you are one of the ones who knows that the key people in your life will be missing. I don’t know what it feels like anymore to not be coping with the absence of my key people. I try not to discuss it much – it’is a downer. And I do not like spreaders of doom and gloom. I refuse to be one of those. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that seldom does the trick in these circumstances, because you cannot deny an empty chair or an unset table on Christmas Day. Other people attempt to fill in the hole in your life by inviting you to join them and thank goodness for that. And yet…

Absence is a harsh reality to cope with that brings strong feelings along the sensitive lines of abandonment. Absence brings nagging feelings of unworthiness on the part of the one left behind. Rationally you do not want to believe that, but a tiny voice nags at you. You wonder if you are not worth the visit. Are the reasons for the absences valid.

Oh the circumstances of the absences are valid. They really are. The reasons are logical, mostly. Issues of geography, money, demanding jobs – you know the reasons you think are valid and ones that you believe are not. But logic is irrelevant at various times in life when you, me and others like us are counting the number of holiday seasons, summers, winters, birthdays, that might be left to us. My favorite Thanksgiving of all time was the one when my daughter appeared at the front door, during an epic blizzard, having flown home from college at a time when we decided we should not spend the money for her to come home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The doorbell rang and I opened it to her smiling face, snowflakes as big as cotton balls swirling around. Logic became irrelevant at that point in time, because I was nuts with happiness. Sometimes you just have to do stuff against all reason. Those times are the memorable ones, obviously – quite obviously. So who the hell cares what the reasons are, for your inability to be home, and what has happened to that timeless belief that you make it home for the holidays no matter what? Just like the mailman – you deliver the goods come rain, hail, sleet or snow, and you are happy and honored to be able to do it. In support of this “old-fashioned” theory, witness the thousands of people at the airports, the train stations, the bus stations and on the highways trying to get home. In time. For the big day. No excuse. People want to be with the people they love the most. It is a strong pull – love is a universal magnet.

There are many ways that compensation can be made for absences during the holidays and for birthdays. A special time spent together doing something else is always good. You and those you love learn the best of the tricks, hopefully, getting creative and crafty with what you offer and employ as “substitutes” if such a thing exists, and memories are made at other places and times that might actually work out to being better overall, sort of. Maybe. Christmas does not have to happen on the 25th, because hopefully you can make it happen in your heart on whatever day works. Birthdays are the type of party that can last for days, with celebrations strung out and enjoyed over time. Children, lovers, friends, parents, grandchildren and other favorite people in your life whom you care for deeply are often very good at “making up” for days when they could not be present in your life. Any and all substitutions help, but the actual day of importance remains empty of their happy companionship. And so there you are. You get up in the morning alone and you do the best you can all day long to display a half-assed crazy looking fake smile and you go to bed alone at night, just like any other damn day. You heave a sigh of relief the next morning that the red letter day is over for another year. Really. You can forget about it.

That is no way to live. Wishing away the holidays and the birthdays and the special times that are not so special is no way to live.

My only advice here is to fill your life with the people who are geographically near to you. I grant you, they are not the actual people you would rank as the number one people in your life, and they already know that, but usually they are nice enough and humble enough to offer themselves up as warm bodies with pulses, lending some fun and food and happiness and they do care about you. They want to be used. They are selfless and giving. And they are present. They are with you.

It is a heavy load to carry, being away from your key people on life’s special days. But remember the load is carried at both ends – the ones absent feel it as well. So you gather your strength, you count your blessings, you offer thanks for all that is good, true and beautiful in your life and you carry on. If at some point it is all too much, you pack your little bag and you do the traveling to them, showing up at their door. Happy surprise!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Creative Epiphany – My Wish for You

tree2012The holiday season brings wish lists and hopes and dreams in the minds of young and old alike.

Wishing almost becomes a pastime – who wants what, who has already purchased what for whom, which person needs this or that, where what can be found.

I hardly know you – the great YOU who are out there and have responded most kindly to my new blog. And yet I have wishes for you – wishes for everyone. Things I hope for you and gifts I wish you already have and must keep or wishes you might receive. Here they are:

I wish that you all have good people in your lives – a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, mother or father, son or daughter, grandmother and grandfather who love you and tells you so; and a husband, wife, lover or friend who loves and values you and who you value in return.

I wish that you have a special place on earth that you can go sometimes for fun and/or peaceful retreat from the harshness of the world. I happen to believe the world is a wondrous place, but sometimes the noise of it becomes too much. We all need a safe place to hide – a room, a destination, a walking path through the woods….

A pleasurable way to pass your bits of free time – a hobby you love or a service you offer to others or a skill that you can drown yourself in when you need to become consumed by something creative and meditative. Some type of endeavor that takes you away.

I wish for you an understanding of what life is all about; and that you learn the ability to sort things out and keep what is honest, true and beautiful in your life.

I wish that you have the insight and courage to know what you will no longer tolerate in your life and that you can manage to separate yourself and make a distance from any unwanted negativity, if not permanently then just for brief and welcome relief.

Perhaps most of all I wish for you love – love and acceptance of self, love for family, friends and special people in your life and love of humankind in general. We are all fellow captives here on the big blue marble, swarming around together. There is no more water now than there has ever been, no more land, no more sky and no more air. We are all using the same resources – the same gifts – that have been here since before recorded time. I wish that we could all learn sharing, caring, toleration and kindness, peace and love. There really is enough to go around. I wish that we would all see that the gifts are distributed more fairly.